US Secretary of State Says Israeli Settlements Harming Peace ProcessBy Robert Berger
15 June 2008

The United States' top diplomat is on a new peace mission, visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, right, meets US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the West Bank city of Ramallah, 15 Jun 2008Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is meeting Israeli and Palestinian leaders as the United States continues to push for a peace agreement by the end of the year. She reacted angrily to Israel's announcement that it plans to build 1,300 new homes in disputed East Jerusalem, on land the Palestinians claim for their future capital. That brings to more than 3,000 the number of homes Israel has approved for construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank since peace talks resumed in December.

"I am very concerned that at a time when we need to build confidence between the parties, the continued building and the settlement activity has the potential to harm the negotiations going forward," said Rice.

Israel says it has the right to build anywhere in Jerusalem because it will remain the capital of the Jewish state in any final peace agreement.

In addition to the settlements, gaps are wide on other core issues such as Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem. Both sides have expressed doubt about meeting the U.S. goal of a peace agreement before President Bush leaves office in January.

Another complication is a corruption scandal that could topple Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert from power.

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